Hunan Xiangtao (2nd) vs. Shanghai East Asia (1st)
The game of the week by absolute country mile is the clash between the two top teams in the division after Hunan reclaimed second position in the division after dismantling Beijing Baxy 3-0 . As well as the battle for control of the CL1 table, the tie also represents a clash between arguably two of the division’s best players – Hunan’s Emil Martinez and East Asia’s Wu Lei.
For both teams though, this game has come at the worst possible time for them. Previously high-flying, inconsistencies and poor away form have derailed both sides in the last four games so neither is coming into this game with any real confidence. Instead, a game with so much on the table for the winner is now going to come down to a straight forward street-fight – whichever team shows up the strongest on the day will be the victor.
In terms of who that will be, remains to be seen although Hunan should have the advantage due to their outstanding run at home. Not only are they undefeated in Changsha this season but their home record since Hunan was promoted back into CL1 back in 2010 has been fantastic in three years, the team has only lost five times at home. With that in mind, Hunan are the narrow favorites but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that East Asia could hold out for a draw.
Chongqing Lifan (5th) vs. Wuhan Zull (3rd)
Another massive clash between two sides very much in the promotion discussion, Chongqing are another of the teams that still have their unbeaten home record going into the twentieth game of the season and represent a huge challenge for Wuhan to overcome.
Moreover, having only lost one league game since April, Lifan remain arguably the most difficult team to play in the division. Regular readers of this column will know the formula by now but Chongqing remain an extremely challenging obstacle to any team they come up against. Brazilians Augusto and Nei plus the former Chengdu Blades striker Brendon Santalab are key to Lifan, who have scored twenty-nine goals already this season (second best in the league) but also concede a lot as well (twenty-five goals – sixth worst), meaning that the average Chongqing game is always fun for the neutral spectator.
Wuhan, who lost away to Guangdong Sunray Cave last week, have already beaten their hosts once this season (a 1-0 victory in April) but coming to Chongqing will be a different story. Their recent rise up the table has come about through a relatively easy set of games against weaker teams so taking on Lifan will be a hard match and one this writer expects them to lose.
Hohhot Dongjin (15th) – Shenzhen Ruby (6th)
Shenzhen’s latest slip-up, this time at Chongqing FC, means that their visit to Inner Mongolia has extra importance as the final third of the season gets underway.
With Shenzhen’s 4-5-1 formation built for ruthless, smash-and-grab football, Phillippe Troussier shouldn’t be too nervous about his visit to the North especially now that Babacar Gueye is coming into form but the hosts certainly can’t be taken lightly， indeed, the uncertain home conditions have tripped up more than one side this season.
Moreover, Hohhot are only goal difference away from getting out of the relegation zone so Shenzhen can expect an aggressive approach from their hosts. The experienced duo of Luciano Olguin and Yovanny Arrechea upfront can certainly get goals and will be a dangerous proposition for the visitors.
A Shenzhen victory seems the likeliest of outcomes but given their erratic form of late, don’t be surprised if Ruby drop points.